Replace “How was your day?” What to say that gets kids talking
We've all been there. You pick your child up from school, hug them tight, kiss their sweet smelling little heads and ask the famous, “how was your day?” Then…nothing. Nada. Zilch. No information at all. Why does this happen? And what should we do instead?
COOPER TEAM • AUG 28TH, 2023
We’ve all been there. Your child gets home from a day at school or preschool and you’re anxiously awaiting all the news. They’ve been out of your sight for 8 long hours (pictures not withstanding), and you're dying to hear what happened. You hug them tight, kiss their sweet smelling little heads and ask the famous, “how was your day?” Then…nothing. Nada. Zilch. No information at all.
Why does this happen?
One reason is that memory and recall doesn’t work for kids the way it works for you. Being asked an open ended question like, “How was your day” is hard to answer! It’s not that your child is trying to be resistant or difficult, or that they aren’t a “sharer,” but rather that they are overwhelmed by the lack of specificity, or the pressure to try and reconstruct the events of the day.
Another reason has to do with exhaustion. After a day of talking, answering questions, paying attention and controlling their bodies, kids don’t want to be grilled with questions. They need a break, a moment to decompress. Your questions can feel like too much, or can feel like they are filled with pressure and expectation. Maybe you are “interviewing for pain,” a term that refers to parents looking for something they are concerned about (like a friend who was mean last week, or concern that your child may be hitting people because they once did). Having an agenda about what we want to know and interrogating our children to get it can push them further away.
What to do instead?
Try connecting first. Give that hug and kiss, show them delight in reuniting (all those non verbal cues that signal to your child that they mean the world to you. Think: looking like you light up in their presence), and start with the small talk. Maybe it’s a few jokes, a chat about the weather, a shared snack on the walk or ride home. Keep it light, simple, and fun for the first few minutes. This can relax and disarm your child, help them to set the tone, and give you a moment to see how the rest of the afternoon may go.
Share something about your day first. Maybe you highlight a favorite moment and a challenging one, or something mundane like what you ate for lunch or how cold your office was. This opens the door for them to listen, join in if they want to, and get into the mood to consider sharing.
Ask a few specific (and seemingly insignificant) questions like, “What did you have for a snack today?” or, “Who did you play with at recess?” Try asking when you are not making eye-contact with your child, like on the ride home in the car or walking side by side after school. If your child feels less intensity in your questions (and has the benefit of a little bit of distraction), they are more likely to answer.
Make yourself easy to talk to by being a good listener. Try and have a neutral reaction to the stories of the day…even the ones that make your blood boil or have you anxious. Instead of digging in (and telling your child exactly how concerned you are), practice holding back your thoughts and reactions while you let your child share. When you’re listening, you don’t need to fix things, have endless suggestions, or ask 1 million follow-ups. The easier you are to talk to, the more your child will continue talking as they age.
One subject that stumps many of us? Friendships. Listening to the ups and downs of childhood friendships is painful…but we’ve got you. Check out this blog for more support from the team at Cooper, and pop into an office hours for personalized support.